The Duty of the State and the Law of God.

Discussion in 'The Law of God' started by Dan...., Feb 9, 2005.

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  1. Dan....

    Dan.... Puritan Board Sophomore

    Is it the duty of the state to uphold the law of God?

    If so, is the state to enforce both tables of the law (duties to God and duties to man), or only the second table of the law (duties to man)?


    Second, is there any good online articles that support either side of this topic?

    Third, I've read some on the forum who hold the "establishment principle". Does the "establishment principle" require the state to enforce the 1st table of the law, or only the second?
  2. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    I believe it is indeed the duty of the magistrate to uphold both tables of the law. The Westminster Confession's chapter on the civil magistrate makes that clear (original version).

    Any discussion of political principles by a notable Reformer or Puritan, and any of the leading Reformation Confessions or Creeds teaches that the magistrate must uphold both tables of the law.

    The National Reform Association has advocated a Christian amendment to the Constitution for over a century:

    This thread has some information on the Establishment Principle which may be helpful:
  3. Dan....

    Dan.... Puritan Board Sophomore

    Thanks Andrew.

    A couple of questions for you:

    1. If the state is to uphold the first table of the law, then what is to be done with those who will not bow the knee to the first commandment (i.e., Hindus, Muslims, atheists, agnostics, etc...) ? Are they to be exiled? executed? imprisoned?

    2. In Romans 13, in the context of the Christian's obedience to power of the state, in verse 9 the apostle lists 5 of the 6 commandments of the second table of the law (less obedience to parents). Why, in this context, is only the second table mentioned?
  4. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    Good questions, Dan.

    1. The idea of having a Christian civil magistrate who wants to perform his God-ordained duty and uphold both tables of the law, as indeed he should, presupposes a people who put him in office animated with the same desire. In other words, Reformation in the state begins with the people (that presupposes Reformation in the Church too). Practically speaking, there must be a certain level of spiritual awakening within a nation for the raising up of godly leaders.

    I would also add that the Hebrew Republic serves as the ideal model in addressing this issue of what to do with those who don't want to go along with the Reformation. Strangers were permitted to dwell with the Hebrews provided they consented to the government by God's people. Likewise, in places like Geneva, Scotland and New England, covenants to Reformed principles were enacted by the people and their leaders and those who would not sign could not partake of the benefits of citizenship.

    Those who hinder the Reformation by public words and works ought to be dealt with by the civil magistrate in the manner that seems most appropriate. The Westminster Confession speaks to this: chap. XX, IV.

    In some cases, like Servetus or Quakers in New England, that meant death, in others like Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, that mean banishment.

    With respect to the Hebrews and God's people in other times and places, it has also meant war with the infidels and other avowed enemies of God.

    The circumstances may vary, but the duty of the magistrate remains as enduring as the moral law of God itself.

    2. I would commend Calvin's commentary on Romans 13, as well as Matthew Henry's. Both acknowledge that the first table is conspicuously absent, but affirm that it is presupposed. The magistrate is after all primarily concerned with a well-ordered society as reflected in man's relationship with his neighbor. The church has its spiritual duty and the magistrate cannot compel men to believe. But it can compel men to honor the name of God and his holy day, as well as prevent the spread of false worship which is a moral and ethical plague. Morality and ethics are based upon the acknowledgment of the true and living God. When the state gives license to atheism or Communism or Roman Catholicism or Islam, it overthrows the public order and tramples upon morality. The magistrate may lawfully require oaths in the name of God, and that is consistent with supporting and honoring the moral law of God in both tables. Again, the spheres of church and state overlap because both are ministers of God. The first table of law is the foundation for the second, and hence the magistrate must uphold both or undermine the second.

    I would commend the Larger Catechism's exposition of the ten commandments because it specifically references duties and prohibitions with respect to magistrates, and accompanying proof texts. Likewise, the Confession's treatment on the civil magistrate makes clear that his duty is to advance the kingdom of God in his sphere of authority, specifically to "maintain piety, justice, and peace." This has reference to both tables of the law.
  5. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

  6. satz

    satz Puritan Board Senior


    Your views would seem to indicate i would be impossible for any christian to hold a position equivalent to civil magistrate in today's society?

    After all, if he were to attempt to uphold the ten commandments in this role, i think this exit from the post would be swift indeed given the governments we have today.

    Is this what you are implying?
  7. VirginiaHuguenot

    VirginiaHuguenot Puritanboard Librarian

    As things stand presently, at least in American society, a man who attempted to perform the Biblical duties of his office as civil magistrate would undoubtedly face enormous resistance and would be found guilty of violating the US Constitution, specifically the First Amendment.

    The only way to get around that is for there to be a Reformation in the land, a Constitutional Convention and/or an amendment to the Constitution which puts the basis of American jurisprudence upon God's Word.

    Prior to 1789, every government upon the face of the earth acknowledged the principle that the magistrate had duties that were not merely secular but could compel men to obey laws relating to religion as well.

    From the time of Constantine on, in Western civilization, governments acknowledged God and his law in some form. America was the first secular republic (albeit modelled upon the principles of Roger Williams in Rhode Island).

    The alternative to the magistrate being required to uphold both tables of the law goes by a number of names or descriptions, but they are all post-Englightment approaches to government:


    Separation of Church and State a la Thomas Jefferson and the First Amendment

    ACLU/Voltaire: I may disagree with what you are saying, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

    Political polytheism

    Prior to the Reformation of 1517, spiritual darkness covered Europe. It seemed impossible by the strength of men that society could be reformed according to the principles of God's Word. But reformation is always the work of the Holy Spirit. That is why reformation of the state must begin in the church.

    Joseph and Daniel both served without compromise in ungodly governments. It can be done. We have had godly governments in the past (Puritan New England, Calvin's Geneva, Covenanted Scotland, the Dutch Prostestant Republic, for example). God's Word testifies that kings will be nursing fathers, and so it must be.

    The standard for civil magistrates is not lowered in God's sight because of pragmatic difficulties. Which is all the more reason to pray for the conversion of our leaders and reformation in our lands.

    [Edited on 10-2-2005 by VirginiaHuguenot]
  8. gwine

    gwine Puritan Board Sophomore

    What would you say distinguished them from the others who served in Babylon and Egypt? Both cultures surely had many practices that would have been offensive. Do you think God made it possible for them to avoid every situation that did not give glory to Him?

    I would be interested in knowing how their situation might be applied to someone (like me) running for a local office.
  9. Dan....

    Dan.... Puritan Board Sophomore

    Thanks Andrew. That was helpful.
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